It is not uncommon for individuals called “Heir Finders” to go through unclaimed asset databases looking for large abandoned accounts. Such individuals then try to locate the owner or heirs, and offer to “find unclaimed assets” for them if paid a large commission. These commission amounts can be as high as 30%-40%, although they are commonly about 20% or 25%.
You don’t need an Heir Finder to do the same research that you can now do with the numerous databases at Unclaimed Family Assets.
Most states have laws requiring that Heir Finders be licensed. Frequently they are private investigators. Unfortunately today, there are many individuals who are totally unlicensed who set themselves up as Heir Finders, making annoying and intrusive calls to heirs to get a piece of a lost financial asset.
You should avoid dealing with any person who asks for a share of a possible lost asset or account.
Usually, an account owner or heir can handle the entire process of claiming lost property without the use of a lawyer. Most accounts hold small sums of money that represent refunds, dividends, interest payments, and similar items that were originally sent by check, but returned because of an incorrect address. The claim forms offered by state unclaimed property divisions can be downloaded from your computer, and you usually just have to provide your current address, your social security number, and perhaps a copy of your driver’s license.
However, some situations may require the use of a lawyer. For example, if you are making a claim for a lost life insurance policy, the check may be made out to “Estate of John Smith.” To be able to deposit this check, you may have to seek the help of the lawyer who handled the original estate’s probate. Similarly, if the account holder is a trust or a business, the claims process may be more involved. You should first call a customer service representative at the state’s unclaimed property division to find out exactly what documents are required to complete a claim. Then you can decide if the family lawyer is needed to help with the paperwork.
Always ask the lawyer if he or she can assist you without cost, especially if the asset being claimed is small.
Assignment of Claims
Never assign a claim or an asset you wish to claim to a third party, unless the party is a trusted family lawyer or individual of high moral character who is officially acting on your behalf.
Heir Finders will try to get owners and beneficiaries of assets to sign papers that give them the right to act on your behalf, contact the state unclaimed property division, and even collect the claim in their name. Their intention is to control the money so they can subtract their high fee before you see any of the money.
An honest lawyer will not ask you to assign a claim for collection unless the circumstances are such that the owner or heir is incapable of acting on his or her own. But even in such cases, the asset should remain in the name of the rightful owner or heir when it is collected by the lawyer, so it can be paid over to you without risk.